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Standing outside facing the Scott County Courthouse, Pastor Grace Hammer read aloud Saturday morning from her Bible to just a few people gathered in lawn chairs.

It was a far smaller flock than her own congregation at Union Presbyterian Church in Lost Nation, Iowa. But nonetheless, Hammer was thrilled to be involved in Scott County's part of the Iowa 99-County Bible Reading Marathon and pleased by the message it sent. 

"To have something like this is amazing," she said after reading from the Book of Matthew. "It's important for our religious freedom for Christians to be able to say we have freedoms as well."

Hammer was among thousands of Iowans who have been reading from the Bible over the four-day marathon, which began at 8 a.m. Thursday and ends at 4 p.m. Sunday. The local event was a scene repeated over and over across the state as part of Gov. Terry Branstad's call for the Iowa 99-County Bible Reading Marathon.

Connie Johnson, the Scott County captain, said the goal was to recruit 320 readers locally to keep the Scripture readings going nonstop around-the-clock. But with only three weeks to plan, the effort drew only about 125 volunteers. So the Scott County event was altered and readings have been from 8 a.m. to about 10:30 p.m. daily the first three days.

Still, she is pleased by the representation of nearly 80 churches, residents from both Scott and Rock Island counties as well as participants from as far as Clinton, Iowa, and Galesburg, Ill. As volunteers read mostly in 15-minute increments, she said crowds have varied from a couple people to nearly a dozen just standing or sitting and listening.

"The general public is stopping and being very encouraging," she said. "We even had one atheist who came to hear what we were doing."

The readings, which are done in the circle of flags at the courthouse, also have drawn a wide range of ages. As of Saturday, the youngest reader had been an 8-year-old girl.

According to Johnson, one of the most moving moments was when a missionary family came to read and the emotional response of the father as his children read.

"They were in a country where they had to be so careful of what they say," she said. "To come here and stand in front of a government facility and be able to read, the father just wept."

Friends Wendy Carlson of Blue Grass and Barbara Graves of Davenport took their turns at reading their favorite Bible Scriptures Saturday morning after listening to others read.

"I thought it was awesome, and I'm proud of Iowa and our governor that we are able to do something like this," said Carlson of the Quad-Cities Prayer Center at Davenport's NorthPark Mall. "Especially for the Fourth of July, it is a beautiful expression of our freedoms even if we're just reading to a building."

Graves added that the readings allow them to exercise both their freedom of speech and religion. "That's particularly impactful on the Fourth of July."

Allowed to choose their readings, Carlson read Revelation:19, 21 and 22.

"I like to see the picture of heaven and what is to come," she said. "It helps me remember God is in control."

Graves chose John:15 and several other chapters.

"I chose them because they remind me I'm not in the world by myself," she said. "My actions impact everyone and me ... It gives me hope that there is more than this." 

Johnson, who was recruited to lead the local effort after statewide leaders contacted the Iowa Baptist Board, said the governor's request was that people read Scripture in front of all 99 county courthouses.

"I bought a new Bible, and every reader is signing it," she said, adding that she plans to present it to the Scott County Board of Supervisors. In addition, most of the readers have written thank-yous to Branstad during the event.

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